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Adventurer's Consumer Guide's Guide
As for the puzzles, they're generally fair, and many are quite ingenious: the objects you've been given at the beginning of the game can be used in a satisfying variety of ways. There are very few filler puzzles with obvious solutions, few re-capitulations of old standards: no passwords, no lock-and-key puzzles, and no light source problems — and certainly no mazes, inventory juggling, or hunger puzzles. There are one or two timed passages, but the timing is generous and needs no tedious optimization once you know what you need to do. Almost every solution requires that you not only find the right props but that you apply them with some degree of imagination... Thorsby keeps the challenges novel and inventive and seldom seems to have stuck in a mediocre puzzle merely because he needed to block an area and didn't have any better ideas. The result is a game that often feels old-fashioned in spirit but offers fresh and novel game-play.
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ACG is a moderate-sized piece, well-tested, with a wide variety of responses to unusual conditions. It's unabashedly a puzzle game -- the premise is a bit thin and the story is minimal -- but what it does, it does very well. The puzzles are generally fair, and many are quite ingenious: the objects you've been given at the beginning of the game can be used in a satisfying variety of ways. Very few of the puzzles felt at all shopworn or perfunctory.
The attention to detail is also excellent. There are a number of easter eggs and special endings -- while there's only one way to really win, the alternate semi-loss conclusions are great fun to read.
One thing that many players are likely to find surprising is the absence of response to EXAMINE: Thorsby eschews object descriptions entirely. Everything you need to know about a thing will be evident from its room description and inventory listing. (On the other hand, this makes for some very long inventory lists...)
As a staunch puzzle-lover, I find no greater joy than discovering an IF game that presents unique puzzles. The puzzles in Adventurer's Consumer Guide are both fun and fair (with the exception of, possibly, one puzzle that sent me to the walkthru). The game inspires trust, so that when you feel stuck you will be generally willing to walk around and try various things rather than resorting to a walkthru, especially since the various things you will try will have logical and often hilarious results. In total, it probably took me about 4 hours to solve the game.
The game has a light-hearted tone, poking fun at dungeon-crawling cliches. I did notice a small number of typos in some room descriptions and occasionally I was unable to locate objects I had dropped. This may be due to the fact that the author eschews the verbs "examine" and "search", which results in the "look" command dumping an enormous amount of information in certain instances and makes the "inventory" command a bit unwieldy at times. Although I did miss the ability to examine objects more closely, the lack of this ability didn't detract from my enjoyment of the game. And I must give the author significant credit for creating a puzzle game without using the standard "search" and "examine" verbs.
Inventory puzzles. An adventure game staple, for better or for worse. Adventurer's Consumer Guide is an excellent example of avoiding obvious lock/key syndrome and using items in unusual yet sensible ways. In fact, that's the explicit premise--your equipment needs to be tested, and it either doesn't work as intended or doesn't seem to work particularly to your benefit, so you have to get creative. As a comedic game, it uses the well-worn technique of masking absurdity with humor, but solutions are well-clued and the behavior of the items is consistent and predictable. Similarly, there's a motley assortment of characters that are all pretty much one-note automatons, excluding your sidekick, but the implementation is robust enough that you get amusing reactions (and often, good feedback) for most of the things you try with them. Everyone takes everything in stride, including events that would be faintly horrific to you or me, but it's all for a bit of silly fun so it's okay. Other amusing touches are the justifications for disallowing silly actions such as kissing, and a dichotomous key for fantastic creatures ("Is it fangoriously slavering? y/n").
The only reason this game came to my attention is because Emily Short mentioned it in a blog (or maybe forum?) post as a game that doesn't support EXAMINE. And it's true, all of the details you need are right there in the room descriptions or inventory listings, so you never have to worry about missing clues because you didn't poke the right noun or look under the bed. On the one hand, this contributes to the game's strong sense of fairness in the puzzles. The pieces are always there in front of you, you just have to be clever about putting them together. On the other hand, exploration is a big part of adventure games, and this approach cuts into that. It's a bit like highlighting all the clickable hotspots in a graphical game--you lose the investigative step. It works in this game, with its narrow focus and medium size (I did not have to draw a map), but it's not a method I would want to see used everywhere.
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